What's the ultimate cost of giving our personal information to Big Data?
Picture a major tech company with ties to the CIA.
Now add in conspiracies, coverups, betrayal and family secrets.
Well, this is the tip of the iceberg in "Code 6."
I'm Ann Bocock, and welcome to "Between the Covers."
James Grippando is here.
He is a "New York Times" Bestselling Author and winner of the Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction.
His new book is a standalone thriller, but not a legal thriller this time, it's a tech thriller, and it's his 30th book.
The title is "Code 6."
Jim, 30 books, how did that happen?
Yeah, that's a great question.
Writing for me was never a goal, it was always a dream.
And when my first novel was published in 1994, that dream was realized, and little did I know that all these years later I'd been in my 30th novel with the same publishing house, Harper Collins, the same agent, Richard Pine, and actually for 25 of those 30 novels, I even had the same editor.
So it's been a great run, and some call me the most monogamous guy in the industry, but it's been a great run.
You know, I've talked to a lot of authors who were attorneys, and they can pretty much pinpoint that day that they made the switch and gave up law.
You never gave up law.
I never did.
And that's mainly because I always wanted to be a lawyer.
I liked my practice.
I grew up in Illinois, so since my parents took me to Springfield, Illinois to see Abe Lincoln's office, I wanted to be a lawyer.
So being a lawyer though was my goal, being a writer was my dream.
And now I'm doing both.
It took a while to figure out how to do both, how to manage that time, but I think I'm finally getting there after 30.
All right, not only did I love the book, I loved the experience of reading the book.
It is such a clever crafting in "Code 6," because we have a play, a real play inside the book.
The play is "Watson."
I actually have a copy of "Watson" here.
And this was a play that you wrote before you wrote "Code 6."
Yeah, it was a challenge, and my new editor and I talked about it.
I'm grateful to her for letting me challenge myself in this way.
I try to challenge myself with each book, but working in an actual play within a novel was a challenge unlike any I'd undertaken before, which is probably why it took me over two years to write the novel even though the play was already written.
But I was very fortunate, about three and a half years ago, more than that now, almost four years ago, the founding executive artistic director of GableStage, came to me and asked me to write a play about the world's first personal information catastrophe, which is the Nazis use of census data and personal information to identify who was Jewish.
No one exactly knew what the reason for that was, back in 1937, but we all now know the horrible consequences that it had.
And the reason that play was called "Watson," is because the Nazis made use of the technology that was available through IBM's subsidiary Dehomag, in Berlin, and Watson was the CEO of IBM at that time.
And the play was really about this question that history's never really answered is what did Watson know about the Nazis intentions and use of IBM technology?
It is a fascinating story.
It is a really interesting play, and your timing couldn't have been worse when you went to the Stage, I mean Yeah, as they say, timing is everything.
And sadly, it debuted in late 2019, ran into early 2020, and about February or early March, 2020, the entire theater industry shut down due to COVID.
That was the sad part.
And then the really sad part, of course is that we lost Joe.
Joe in February of 2020 passed away, not from COVID And so we lost all our momentum.
I lost my director, developer, sort of my mentor in the whole playwriting process.
And I'm left with this play, great script, great story, what to do with it.
And that's really when I started thinking about the novel "Code 6."
Yeah, that was a brilliant thing to do with the play.
The book "Code 6" is a departure from the legal thriller, which we know that you do so beautifully.
It's a tech thriller, like I said, but boy, it's scary.
It scared me.
I'm gonna talk a little bit about it and you'll tell me how much we can get into.
Christian Gamble is the CEO of this tech firm.
He has this fabulous daughter.
Her name is Kate.
She's a law student, but what she really wants to do is be a playwright.
Now how much more can you tell us here?
Well, and Kate is working on a play.
It's a little autobiographical in that regard.
Kate's experience in writing a play.
And that's where things gelled for me with the stories when I realized, okay, this is not going to be a historical novel about the Nazis use of IBM technology in the Holocaust, but I didn't wanna lose that element.
So all of that comes into the story through Kate's play.
Now, Kate's problem is that her father is the CEO of one of the biggest players in the Big Data industry.
And so he would view it as a betrayal if Kate were working on a play that reveals the dark side of data collection and data mining.
And so she tries to keep it secret, but of course she can't help but wanna research her play, not just in terms of the historical element, but what... We've often heard the adage history repeats itself.
And so what did we learn from that first personal information catastrophe that's relevant to today's Big Data industry?
Kate embarks on a little research of her father's own company, and makes a scary discovery with scary parallels to what was going on 80 years ago in Nazi Germany.
And that leads to conspiracy, coverup, and other dangers that Kate has to wind her way through in which she's not only fighting for her online security, but her personal safety.
You did that so well.
You didn't give it away, but you did the whole thing.
Okay, I love this.
I'm reading the book, and I do this all the time.
Then all of a sudden I am Googling, I'm going down the the rabbit hole, because there are so many things I had to find out, did this really happen?
Now, both your play and the play in the book, I mean, they are cautionary tales.
We've talked a little bit about the Nazi census information, but I want to step back into history just for a moment.
Is it Hollerith punch machine?
Hollerith punch machine, which is what IBM had and that's what the Nazis wanted.
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the viewers today will remember, 'cause they were around, it's really almost late as the 1970s the old punch cards, the punch card technology that was part of the precursors to computers, which was called electromechanical technology.
They were pretty impressive.
I mean, you could process, thousands and thousands of bits of information a minute, even in precomputer technology, and it dates back all the way to the 1890s.
And even the US government used Hollerith technology in the census of 1890, to process all of the census data.
Well, 50 years later, the Nazis used the same technology and of course it was on a more expansive basis I think there were like some 80 million people in the 1937 census in Nazi Germany.
And a key question on that census was "Did you have a Jewish grandparent?"
And that question then became part of the Nazi data pool, thanks to the Hollerith punch card technology and they were able to process it.
We've all heard the stories of neighbor informing on neighbor, "Anne Frank's Diary," and so forth, but as bad as neighbor informing on neighbor, and it surely happened, was, where the Nazis really had the upper hand was through this data that was available to them through the electromechanical punch cards.
Well, here's where the cautionary tale comes in for me.
The Nazis are collecting this information, today we're willingly giving away personal information.
And the big question in the book, at what cost?
What is data mining?
Yeah, so, every time we click on a like button, or even nowadays it doesn't even require us to click on something, and say we like it.
If our cursor hovers over an image on a screen on our phone for maybe a little bit longer, than we might have if we were just like scrolling through it, data miners are able to pick that up.
They know what catches our eye.
They know what we "like," and that becomes part of their data pool.
Now, we've always thought to ourselves well, that's the cost of of technology.
Is that, there's no way to avoid that.
And so what if I see a few extra commercials as a result of it, because it's all just for marketing purposes anyway.
But when I first started writing "Code 6," we didn't really know about the foreign government connection to TikTok.
So now that's all over the news, is that it's not just marketers and advertisers who are getting our personal information but potentially a foreign government that's hostile to the United States is collecting information on all of our children between the ages of 12 and 18, and will know everything there is to know about those Americans when they grow up.
And so that's pretty scary.
I just wanna follow that for a moment.
My generation, well, I'm a very private person, and yes I do have all this technology, they're getting information from me.
But children, my grandchildren they've been following the little kids since they were born.
Every single thing, that frightens me.
Yeah, it frightens me too.
And partly because of the invasion of the privacy of our children's.
But there's also another component to it, is that somewhere in that pool of American children, who are, I'm not gonna say addicted some of 'em are addict to it.
Well, they are.
They're definitely attached to it.
Somewhere out there is a future president of the United States.
And so her data is now going into this data pool and think about what that might be used for, when that person emerges as the leader of the free world, will be able to know, is that person a risk taker, is that person risk avase?
What kind of words do they use when they're bluffing?
What kind of words do they use when they're really mad?
All of these things will be available.
And don't fool yourself for a minute, there will be algorithms pouring over that data when that person emerges as the future president of the United States As if "Code 6" wasn't scary enough, I see this coming up in another book.
It may be, although I do have the series, 18 of my novels are Jack Swyteck.
Jack Swyteck, who's a criminal defense lawyer.
That is my comfort zone.
And so I will be going back to Jack for the next novel.
Kate, who is my favorite in the book.
She is young and fresh and fearless.
One, was she fun to create?
Because she's very authentic.
And what was the biggest challenge to getting her voice right?
Yeah, I mean, just you start with it.
I'm a man and I'm writing a lead character who's a woman, and not just a woman but a young woman in her twenties.
Now my daughter will get really mad at me, but I did borrow a lot from my own daughter who's very artistic minded.
She's a former ballerina and now is the major gifts coordinator from the Whitney Museum of Art.
She has that artistic side to her but she's also extremely bright.
And so it wasn't all that hard for me to tap into the mind of a 27, 28 year old woman who has a love of the arts but also a good head on her shoulders, and that's Kate.
And I really enjoyed writing that character.
I could actually see myself bringing her back in a future book because she reminds me a little bit of the same way that Jack Swyteck, my criminal defense lawyer in my series.
He's now in his forties and an established lawyer.
But when I wrote him into "The Pardon," in 1994 he was just about Kate's age, he was a 27 year old young, idealistic lawyer.
And so, it's kind of fun for me to think about the possibilities with Kate.
I'm glad she's so young, because I can work with her and grow with her over the years.
And I'm glad you said that because I feel like I could really like to see more of Kate.
There's another character in the book that you cannot help but admire, and that's Patrick Battle.
And he is a childhood friend of Kate's who shows up in the book.
Patrick is based on a real person a 16 year old boy who died of cancer, am I correct?
Yeah, so, I knew Patrick all his life.
We used to call him Baby Patrick, those of us who knew him since he was in diapers.
And despite the last name of the family is Battle, and that became the "Battle Strong Movement," was when Patrick was fighting cancer.
Unfortunately, he lost that battle.
And I either in a moment of sympathy, empathy, friendship or temporary insanity, decided promise the family I would write Patrick into one of my novels.
Two novels went by and there was no place for a teenage boy.
And where the light bulb moment finally came on for me was I thought, you know what?
Patrick was so into gadgets and into technology, I'm gonna age him in real time.
And instead of trying to write a 16 year old boy into my novel, I'm going to imagine what Patrick would be like as a 22, 23 year old young man and put him into "Code 6," and everything flowed from there.
It was just a perfect fit.
I imagine his family was very touched by this.
They were overjoyed, and they really, they told me, Patrick is beaming in heaven right now for "Code 6," and that was really rewarding for me, because going out there and putting a character into a novel based on a real person is difficult to begin with.
But trying to project what that person might be as a young man was a little scary for me.
Because would that jive with how the parents saw him growing up.
And it moved me to hear Patrick's father who's also Patrick, saying, "I have thought every day, what would Patrick be like now, "if he were still with us?"
And "Code 6" kind of gave them that insight.
And it was fun to share that experience with them of not bringing Patrick back, but giving them that moment of time with him.
I don't wanna overstep, and I don't wanna spoil anybody's raid, but can we at least say that in "Code 6," mothers will go to any length to protect their children?
And you can answer it or you can take the fifth, however you wanna do do it.
Yeah, and that's definitely a theme in the book.
Kate has a sad relationship with her mother, but also a sees a side of her mother after her mother's death... And I'm not giving anything away here, that happens in the first chapter.
And comes to know... Part of this journey for Kate is not just writing her play and not just getting to know her father better, for better or for worse, but coming to understand her mother who really did have Kate's best interest in mind.
And I do think it will spill over, because we do have responsibility as adults even though a lot of us will like to throw up our hands and say, "I just don't know anything about those gadgets."
Well, we need to learn, because they're real, especially if we have children and grandchildren who are using them.
I know you are serious about your research.
I wanna know if this information for the book for "Watson," was it readily available?
So for "Watson," much of this information is available through the Holocaust Memorial website and I went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum and at one point in time...
They don't anymore, but at one point in time they actually did have a Hollerith machine there on display.
But even with that, I still have people saying, I consider myself almost a student of World War II and the Holocaust and I did not know about this technology, or we think of it as sort of primitive by today's standards, but primitive as it was it was horrifically effective, in this way.
And so, yeah, it's out there.
The website is terrific.
I would encourage people to visit the Memorial website.
And there was information there, not just about the technology side of course, but in creating "Watson," I did want it to...
I had young people come to me and say I never knew about Kristallnacht, I never knew a about all of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, all of these things that I think it's important to preserve those memories, are presented in a way that I think will impress upon people's memories without distracting from their enjoyment of the story.
I also looked it up too, 'cause I wanted to see exactly what it looked like and then went again Googling more to find out more information.
But as you said, that's a great source of information.
The real challenge in writing "Code 6," and "Watson," the play, was it's all very important information but without a story, it is still information.
And with "Code 6," it ended up being Kate, with a relationship with her father and her mother.
And in "Watson," what drove the story was the explosive relationship between Tom Watson Sr, who was the founder of IBM, and Tom Watson Jr. who had to come to terms ultimately with what his father may have known about the Holocaust.
Let's talk about these relationships for a minute, because that too really struck a nerve with me.
In the Watson father and son relationship, there is this issue that boils over, I guess you would say between morality and capitalism, maybe.
And, I mean, both were...
I mean Watson Sr. thought of himself as the world's greatest salesman.
And "Fortune Magazine" called Tom Watson Jr.
The greatest capitalist who ever lived.
So the guys knew how to make money, definitely.
But Watson Sr. was a very complicated man.
I mean, the first person to come to his funeral was Charles Gimbel of the Gimbel family, who's Jewish.
And so there was an...
This is not a a story in which we're really talking about an antiSemite, we're talking about someone who made some very bad choices, driven by his role as CEO of the company.
And the background of Tom Watson Jr. and Tom Watson Sr. Was...
I mean, the blowups between those two were just legendary.
And so that made for a very fertile setting for Tom Jr. to come to terms with his father's decisions that he made because Tom Jr. served in World War II he was part of that generation couldn't have been a more patriotic man and couldn't have been more opposed to any way, shape or form, aiding the Nazi regime.
And so that leads to... That unfolds in the play "Watson."
This is the 30th book, "Code 6."
And in previous books you have tackled some very serious social issues.
In the last Jack Swyteck book, I believe, it was guns and school Shootings.
And as an author, what is the balance in creating a storyline that is as polarizing as that, and also making a book something you want to read?
Yeah, it's a challenge.
And so I want my books to be relevant but I don't want them to be polemics.
And so really, for example when I wrote "The Pardon," which dealt with the death penalty I would've defied anyone to read that book and know where I stand personally on the death penalty.
And I think that really is the key to writing a book that maybe informs your readers but does not make them feel preached to.
And that's really what you have to... And a lot of that has to do with having had a great editor.
And a lot of that has to do with being a pretty good self editor.
There you go.
In just like the minute or so that we have left, I'd like to find out just a little bit more about you.
In "Code 6," you make a reference to "Call of the Wild" as being one of the character's favorite books as a kid.
Do you remember your favorite book?
My favorite book as a kid, wow.
So if you go all the way back in time, it was "Bambi."
But there was a book that's actually interesting, I'm even saying this, it's a great question because "Watson" is the play within the novel.
And my favorite book in middle school was not actually book, it was a play.
I read the script and it was "A Man For All Seasons."
And the story of Thomas More and the difficulty choice he had to make about swearing an oath to affirm the marriage of Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII.
And I just, to this day, I read that.
I've reread that so many times since I was a child and admire, not only just the way it was written but the powerfulness of the story.
And in the last few seconds I know you're a dog lover.
What is it about Golden Retrievers?
Yeah, they're a writer's best friend, they really are.
And I've had three over the 25 years that I've been writing.
And my new latest one is Atlas.
And he is my steady.
He tells me when to take a break and lays his head in my lap and makes me feel loved.
James Grippando, thank you so much for spending time with me today, and thank you "for Code 6."
It's always a pleasure.
Thank you, Anne.
I'm Anne Bocock, please join me on the next, "Between The Covers."